Book Reviews -- Redeeming the Wasteland: Television Documentary and Cold War Politics by Michael Curtin

By Craig, Steve | Journalism History, Spring 1996 | Go to article overview

Book Reviews -- Redeeming the Wasteland: Television Documentary and Cold War Politics by Michael Curtin


Craig, Steve, Journalism History


Curtin, Michael. Redeeming the Wasteland: Television Documentary and Cold War Politics. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1995. 316 pp. $18.95.

Joining the ever-increasing list of history books on post-war media, Michael Curtin's Redeeming the Wasteland examines the surge of television documentaries that flooded prime time in the early 1960s (387 were produced in the 1962 season alone).

But Curtin argues that far from being a "golden age" for television reporting, this period was characterized by documentaries which contributed to the fervor of Cold War rhetoric. Producers and reporters selected topics and framed them pretty much in keeping with the government line, often resulting in an us-against-them portrayal of events. Yet, it also was a period of at least limited national self-reflection, and a significant number of documentaries, such as CBS's "Harvest of Shame," focused on domestic issues such as poverty and race.

The book draws numerous examples from the five seasons from 1959 though 1964, when both documentary production and the Cold War were at their height. One chapter is dedicated to a close analysis of a single program, "Panama: Danger Zone," to further illustrate the text's major points.

Curtin, who is the director of Indiana University's cultural studies program, has drawn upon that approach to produce a fine example of historical-critical investigation and writing. In an approach to journalism analysis reminiscent of John Hartley's Understanding News, he has constructed an intricate interpretation of the political and economic conflux that gave rise to the production and thematic structure of 1960s network documentaries.

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